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Alan O'Neill: 'Shake up the office stars as well as the shirkers to maximise team efficiency'

How to develop both top performers and unmotivated staff - and maximise the return on your investment

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Alan O’Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie

Alan O’Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie

Alan O’Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie

For most organisations across industry, payroll is one of the biggest overheads - after costs of goods and raw materials. 'Your people are your greatest asset' and 'your people are an investment rather than a cost' are just some of the common clichés we hear.

Whatever way you see it is up to you. But in a modern world, our responsibilities as employers go way beyond money.

Companies have a duty to be great employers. We should develop and nurture our people, not only because it's the right thing to do but because it makes business sense.

There is no contradiction here between being a great employer and wishing to get maximum productivity.

Organisations are entitled to get maximum return on this significant payroll investment, just as with any other overhead.

In this column last week, I described a scenario where a disgruntled employee was acting in a corrosive way in his team. That is unacceptable behaviour, and in that particular case, 'John' himself was the main cause of the problem.

I suggested some options for how he should self-correct his behaviour.

I also mentioned, however, that it takes two to tango. After all, sometimes the employer is at fault and the cause of disgruntlement.

Today, I'd like to explore some strategies for you, the employer, to take, in order to develop your people and to maximise the return on your investment. Over the years, I have heard organisations make sweeping assessments of some of their people, rating them on a very subjective or narrow set of criteria. 'She's a good operator' or 'he's so negative' are regular phrases that are simply meaningless.

Every job, from the chief executive to the front-line, has a unique set of competencies.

As employers, we have a duty to be structured and to have a better understanding of the detail of the job.

In so doing, we can make better judgements, focusing on specifics of performance, and take appropriate corrective actions when under- performance is evident.

Tips for Developing your Employees

Rather than making sweeping judgements of your people and treating them all with the same strategy, use the 'willing and able' model shown here as a template for identifying the most appropriate approach.

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We want all of our employees to be both willing and able to do their job (quadrant four).

That is where we achieve a combination of maximum productivity and high employee engagement. Here is how to work toward that.

Start by asking yourself two questions. Firstly, on a score of one to 10, rate the employee's ability to do the job.

Think of the various skills and knowledge required to do the job effectively.

Secondly, rate on a scale of one to 10 their willingness to do the job. By willingness, I'm referring to their attitude and/or confidence level.

1 Willing, but not able

For any person in this quadrant, the improvement strategy is to provide them with the relevant training. Formal and structured training is a fast way to get your employees to a level of competence.

That might be an organised training event that requires budget, or it might be one-to-one training, where you or another colleague shows them how. That costs nothing; only time and effort.

2 Able, but not willing/confident

The people in this quadrant are competent but for whatever reason, their head is not in the right place. Rather than simply branding this person as negative, it's incumbent on you to find out why. Start by having a conversation with them, laying out the context for the chat. Listen. And seek agreement that there is a performance issue, and get their input to resolve it.

3 Neither willing nor able

Before you jump to a fast conclusion and a P45 form, slow down and think this through. You know the statistics around the cost of hiring a new employee and all the stress that goes with that. So firstly, ask yourself what level of time, effort and energy it will take to turn this person around. If you think there is potential to do that, then do it. But you must start that strategy with a one-to-one conversation before you organise training for them.

If after an appropriate length of time, the person hasn't improved, then perhaps it is time to consider either a P45 or a transfer.

But beware: a transfer should only be considered if that person can move to quadrant number four in a different role and perhaps with a different manager.

4 Willing and able

For those in quadrant four, you need to ask a different question. Rather than looking for strategies to improve them, consider what you need to do to sustain their high levels of willingness and ability. At the very least, let them know your view through reward and recognition.

You will also find that this person will be positively disposed to taking on extra responsibility. But don't abuse that by overloading them. Just because they are more inclined to say 'yes', don't assume that you can stretch that while letting others off the hook.

With this exercise, you can see that the development of each person has to take an individual approach, rather than a broad brush stroke for all. For example, if you try to train a person that is already highly capable of doing their job, you'll waste time and money, and you may even demotivate them.

The Last Word

What if you had done this exercise six months ago. Would the same people have been in the same quadrant? If so, you need to point the finger at yourself. In this fast-moving world where change is frenetic and margins are under pressure, you owe it to yourself, the organisation and the employees to help them improve.

Alan O'Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie

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